‘Why did you get involved?’

photo by Ann Oleinik, from the 6-24-09 candlelight vigil at Water Tower Square

photo by Ann Oleinik, from the 6-24-09 candlelight vigil at Water Tower Square

August 1st, 2009, a letter to my non-Iranian Iran-supporting friends:

“What led to your initial involvement with the Iran conflict? How has your experience with the Iranian conflict evolved during your time participating?”

Ann, August 5th, 10:02 PM–My interest in Iran began approximately a year and a half ago when I met my boyfriend, who is a native of Tehran. I have to be honest and say that I did not know very much about Iran when we met. Sharing our cultures was an easy and fun part of getting to know each other, but Kamran was never very interested in talking about Iranian politics. Frustration and disgust would rise to the surface as he explained the personalities and issues of the situation back home, and we would often just change the subject.

I remember last fall, when we stood together in hopeful excitement in Grant Park as Barack Obama was elected president. We had this thought at the back of our minds that maybe, just maybe, something similar would happen in Iran.

Over the Spring our excitement grew little by little as June approached. We carefully followed developments in Iran, and were caught up in election fever as the crowds grew prior to the election. This is the moment, we thought. Change is going to come! The youth were out in the street, and our hearts were with them, cheering, singing, chanting.

The day of the election came. I got home from work as quickly as I possibly could so that we could drive up to Skokie where Kamran could vote. When I pulled up to our building Kamran ran out the door. “They say Ahmadi is winning! I have to vote!” he said. They had begun counting the ballots even before the polls were closed. We thought to ourselves, “Ahmadi’s supposed lead is only because they have just begun counting. Surely when they count a greater percentage of the votes, the results will shift.”

Kamran voted in a small conference room in a small hotel in Skokie. But it was mere hours before the regime would officially declare Ahmadi the winner by an unbelievable margin, suggesting that they had hand-counted millions of ballots at lightning speed. We stayed up watching the news come in over the internet in disbelief and heartbreak. Is this true? Was he really elected? As bloggers began to speculate about the results, it was almost as devastating to think that the results had been fabricated as it had been to think that Ahmadi had won. It was an insult, as if saying that the rulers were no longer even pretending to care about the people who had sacrificed everything to establish and maintain the system that had placed those very same tyrants in power. Anguish.

And then the videos started to come in over Facebook. We watched all of them. We barely left the house that first weekend as we kept reloading Kamran’s Facebook page to watch more videos. We stood in amazement as we saw videos of enormous crowds – brave men and women defending themselves, picking up stones off the street to use as weapons, photographing everything. Kamran translated chants and songs, and we looked for every bit of news we could find. We were awed, inspired, humbled, and completely transfixed.

And that’s when I realized that I was in a particular position as an American because I was getting these reports and videos first-hand, before the mainstream media was following closely and certainly before my friends and family were getting information. I had to pass it on, I had to at least try to make my circle of friends and family aware of what was going on in the streets. For the last two months nearly all of my Facebook posts have been about Iran. Every now and then I get a message from someone saying that they appreciate it, that they’re thinking of it, and I think I have to keep posting.

Maybe a week after the election Kamran and I finally made it to one of the rallies in Chicago. I brought my camera along b/c I love photographing people, but I was a little hesitant. Would protestors want to be photographed? Would I be welcomed as a white American girl walking around with a camera?

I have never felt more welcome with my camera than I have at these protests. On that first day a number of people approached me, asked to see my photos, asked me to photograph them, offered to translate. And so I thought, “wow, I’d better take more photos so I don’t disappoint anybody!” The response grew as I posted the photos online and attended more events. I’m no professional, but it means so much to be able to contribute in some small way. I really love photographing people when they are passionately absorbed in what they are doing. It is such an honor to be able to capture the moment of feeling on a person’s face when they forget that I am there and are completely vulnerable and open. At this time, for this cause, it’s my hope to share that intensity so Iranians know how much true support there is for them and so that we all recognize the strength in those around us. We are together.

Bhuvanesh Bhatt, August 4th, 6:37 PM–I support openness and freedom everywhere, and due to cultural ties between India and Iran I also feel close to Iranians. Actually, religion often plays a big part in elections in India as well, and I do not approve of attempts to divide. I was and am particularly against violence against the protesters in Iran. Also, even though the present situation is somewhat different from that just prior to the 1979 revolution, I have faith in the ability of the Iranian people to bring about change in the political system.

Amanda Baum, 8:00 PM–My initial involvement was an old friend that I had reconnected with through Facebook. GJ and I were friends in elementary school, up through high school. I never thought of her as Iranian, and myself as American, we were just friends.

I was logging onto FB one morning, just like every morning, and saw a post from her. I was so disturbed by it. They were beating people in the streets. These people weren’t doing anything wrong, they were walking in a large group, simply showing their displeasure for the events that had recently unfolded. Had there been protests here in the US, the police would protect those people’s rights to do so, their right to speak their minds.

I know every culture is different, and I know not everyone believes all people are entitled to the rights we have here, I just couldn’t believe how the police, who are supposed to protect citizens, were killing their own. I was so repulsed at how the Iranian citizens were being treated, I felt I had to do something about it. So I started to repost what I had seen and read, sharing these atrocities with as many people as I could, just to make everyone aware.

I have made new friends through this. And am attempting to learn Farsi so that I can better communicate with them. I have had amazing conversations with them, and learned things about my own country that I am not proud of. We all have to care to make a change. I always feel like I can do more, but there is nothing more I can do. I want to do more, so the more people I can make aware, the more I am doing.

Lori L., 12:10 PM–When I heard about the outpouring of grassroots support for the “Green Revolution” in Iraq, and saw the pictures of women motivated to change their future and that of their daughters, I was deeply gratified with the feeling that President Obama’s victory in the US, and he outreach in Cairo to the Muslim world, was already bearing wondrous fruit. Then, to see the ludicrious, lopsided landslide in favor of Ahmedinijad–as if all those young people had stood in long lines to reaffirm his message of draconian religious law and hostility to the west–brought back feelings of confusion and betrayal such as many of us experienced in 2000 and 2004.

When some on the right suggested that the President’s response to Iran’s misfortune had been “soft,” of course it was clear from past experience that an aggressive stance would have only given substance to the lie that Mousavi’s movement was fueled by meddling outsiders. But if Americans were to pour into the streets in support of the Iranian citizens who had risked everything to defy the band on public rallies–that would give tremendous aid and comfort to those suffering under the mock-election aftermath. For this reason, I joined in the rally in Chicago, but I was sorry to see that there were relatively few non-Iranians in the crowd. I stood with two Amnesty International volunteers in order to emphasize that we are not rallying for political reasons, but humanitarian ones–to stand in solidarity with peaceful protesters who have paid a terrible price for their expression of democratic aspirations. If I could give a message to my fellow progressives, it would be that this issue transcends left or right, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

Nan, August 1st, 11:53 AM–I was born and raised in Detroit. The Metro Detroit area had at one time, the largest middle eastern immigrant population in the country. (since 1850) So I was fortunate to grow up and be aware of some things that were going on there and else where. But my father and grandparent’s were big on all kinds of discussions on various issues that was not typical in any of my friends homes. In particular, a lot of the Shah’s people escaped to the area before and after 79. There was one formerly privileged family and their daughter, who told me the tale of her family. I argued with her Father a lot as a teenager, about the conditions of the regular people in Iran…..I was exposed to many different perspectives on Iran from an early age….

Words from Iranclick here

More coverage of the 2009 Iran conflict from readjack.com

PLEASE SEND ME YOUR RESPONSES via facebook or jack@readjack.com. Love to have ’em.

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